Contrast and verb phrase ellipsis: the case of tautologous conditionals

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This paper argues that verb phrase ellipsis requires contrast. The central observation is that ellipsis is ungrammatical in tautologous conditionals; e.g., *If John wins, then he does. Ellipsis is correctly ruled out by a focus-based theory of ellipsis (Rooth 1992a,b), but one that crucially imports focus’s requirement for contrast: an elliptical constituent must have an antecedent that is not merely an alternative to it, but a ‘proper’ alternative. An explanation in terms of contrast failure proves superior to alternative explanations in terms of triviality and matching form. Showing as much catalogues what counts for contrast in ellipsis, encompassing negation, questions, and intensionality. Subjecting ellipsis to a contrast requirement is in direct conflict with the traditional analysis of MaxElide effects (Takahashi and Fox 2005), favouring alternative explanations (e.g., Jacobson 2019a,b), perhaps in terms of contrast itself (Griffiths 2019). Overall, this paper establishes that contrast has explanatory power in ellipsis licensing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-100
Number of pages24
JournalNatural Language Semantics
Early online date17 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished online - 17 Mar 2022


  • Ellipsis
  • Focus
  • Contrast
  • Triviality
  • Conditionals
  • Intensionality
  • MaxElide


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